Slovenian director Mitja Okorn interviews American director
Paul Thomas Anderson at the Motovun Film Festival, Croatia
I am sorry… I must say that I hate to talk to you and I wouldn't like to talk to you because I have seen your films and I don't understand why you made those films and I don't understand why I didn't made those films. And another reason why I don’t see sense to taking to you is that everything that I won’t to know about your movies can be seen in your movies because they are so transparent.
Well that is very nice of you to say. I can help you. Yea. Well that’s nice that you see that they are transparent. I think that’s what they should be.
We will talk about directing. And let’s begin with the first take of your 2nd feature film Boogie Nights. The opening scene. And from that scene we can get to know you better. Well and from that take we can get the first message about the film and first message from Paul Thomas Anderson to the whole world. And that message is: I CAN DIRECT!!! Do you remember the scene and how did you do it. With a steady cam?
Yeah it was with a steady cam. And steady cam operator was standing on the top of the crane and then the crane came down where he step off the crane and ran furiously down the street and follow the car and follow them into the club. This scene was really fun to do. I like doing shots like this in my movies – they are always fun to do. But I saw Russian Ark this morning actually which is….
…A little but longer…
…yeah and makes this scene and the whole movie look like a little student movie, really. But I think what is so nice about it that it’s really nice for actors you know because usually in the movies a scene is pieced together from all these different shots and I think that’s really hard for actors to kind of keep remembering in their minds where they might be. So it’s something really nice for actors when it’s all kind of a one continuous thing and they can really act and kind of do their job and they don’t have to think so much.
But they have to think where they have to be in a certain moment.
Yeah. But that’s only one job in comparison with shooting all these pieces of one scene over and over again from all these different angles. And it’s also a lot of fun you know. It kind of makes the entire crew and everybody: “You should know what you are going after; you should know when you go to work that day that there is nothing better than the feeling that we trying to get something difficult made today.” And everybody is working towards getting that done. And when you get it there’s that kind of incomparable feeling of just joy. You did it…You got it! That’s the great thing about making the movies.
Besides from being confident and skillful and besides telling us that you can direct there is a very good point at the beginning of the movie because all characters of Boogie Night are there in this one take sequence and this sequence ends with a cut and after this cut you have a guy, the guy with a big cock who is going to become a born hero and change the lives of all those guys who were shown in these one shot sequence.
Well yeah! You don’t want to do something just to show off usually. Well sometimes you do. But most of the times you get caught pretty easily and I think audiences will kind of go like:
Why did you do that? That was just showing off? But if you can show off and this also kind of helps progress the story along and maybe in a really interesting way you can introduce the characters. Then that’s good – you can’t get…just don’t get caught.
Let’s get back to technicalities which are interesting. You shot on real location. What did your producer say to you when you told him that you are going to start this scene in the night, so you are obliged to do everything in the night which is more expensive and stuff?
Well there was no problem because I have a relationship with my producer that’s not argumentative. It’s more…really supportive. We argue quite a lot but it was always just sort of very obvious that it should take place at night and it’s going to be hard to film but at the end rewarding. So he was all right with it.
What about steady cam operator? Is he also a friend…After you made that shot?
Well he wasn’t after but he was before. He’s a very “bad” guy. He’s a really a big British guy. But we survived.
Did you shoot that scene in the first day of shooting?
No, no, no! There’s an old theory you know, that you should just start out in the first couple of days with something easy, just so you can get your groove on. This was maybe about 2 or 3 weeks in. But we have been planning it for like a month or something like that. A great thing I’ve learned about something like this or whenever you are going to make movies there can not be enough planning. You know there’s never enough planning. It’s always the best way to go about it. We just go out to that street and look at it and kind of dream it up and talk about it and then a week later come back with new ideas and kind of change the older ideas. It’s just a great thing when we go on and attack a movie to prepare as much as we possible can. So I think that’s what helped us to be able to do it, especially for the money that we had and the time that we had. Because we ended up doing it all in one night. We maybe just did it about 20 maybe 25 times but, you know, that was all we had time for you know. Because sun went down at 19.00, 19.30, 20.00 O’clock…
…And the night was yours…
…And the night was ours. But not really because you can’t really start shooting at 7, 7.30, 8 O’clock. It has just gotten dark enough so you can see what lights actually look like and than you have to adjust them. But having all the time to prepare made it really, really easy – relatively easy actually.
Well seeing this whole film, this take doesn’t say that this is the way of your writing or film making because you are changing it all the time. You have takes like this and then you suddenly have some other scenes that are quickly cut. Cut, cut, cut. And then your specialty is also to make a long statically punctual provocative scenes and takes. So definitely seen your three films there is no system to all three of them except that they are all very good and meaningful. Do you relay on your intuition very much when deciding and picking up solutions. How do you do it? From Imagining to realization?
Well……….eee……..I have to keep two different notebooks. When I am writing the screenplay many times I will visualize what the scene might look like and I will be writing the screenplay, but I will try to keep the screenplay as clear of any kind of scriptage stuff as possible. I would just try to keep it on the level: where is the location – Inside or outside, what the characters will say. Because most of the times when people read script they just want to know where’s the location and what are they saying to each other, because that’s all you are going to need. But in a another notebook that’s just for me to remember my vision it’s more complicated and it’s more clouded too…Ideas for shots and ideas for the angles and how much coverage might be needed in a certain scene. But that’s a notebook that only a few people have to see because I don’t want to cloud everyone’s brain out with stuff that you might not need.
Do you draw?
No. A little bit but not so much. You can write it right out of my shot list. And sometimes I have an idea that maybe we should do this in just one shot or maybe you are not so sure so you will do 2 or 3 angles or you go in thinking that you are going to need 5 or 6 shots but you know the first time you see it, you just say: “That’s all that I need!” You know? It’s just sort of that balance between being really prepared and having a plan but being open to learn something new when we see it on the day or being excited or really kind of getting out of your own head. Because I had made a mistake in the past when you make a plan when you are alone in your room. You know? You think: “This is really great!” but it doesn’t really account for being in the real world and all. And then you go out there and it’s just sort of like really being open to having a plan in your mind but forgetting it a little bit and keeping your eyes open to the actors. To really keep your eyes on the actors and the scenery that you are having fun with. Sure there is a certain point when your imagination doesn’t serve you very well and it really is there in front of you…
We had a lesson of drawing, storyboard and stuff like that here on Motovun film Festival. And I think it’s very good to be aware of that kind of techniques. But if you are not doing Science Fiction or Historical Drama or some Hitchcock Complex scene or something similar then it’s maybe cool that you should always believe the actors, situation and the whole scene. Because sometimes you just can’t premeditate the film completely and in that time you have to let your self to the certain situation of filming the film. You think you work like that?
You know it’s like if you let’s say maybe go on to the set to reverse the scene and in your minds eye maybe you have always seen it from this perspective right here, there are two people standing in the room and you can see them and the camera is right here. And when let’s say maybe actors are reversing the scene always make a point to make sure that you go on the other side of the room just to see what it’s like the opposite of what you had in your mind. Always be open to what might be there and seeing things from different angles.
We mentioned your style. Style is when people are repeating something and that makes it their style. You repeated the one shot sequence intro in Boogie Nights in your third movie Magnolia. It’s a similar outline but in a different mood. How was it filming that?
I kind of remember it. I remember it when I see it but I don’t really remember filming it that much.
So was it hard filming that one shot sequence where you follow the boy on to that Pop quiz show on television? Coming off from the rain to inside of a building and than changing the floors and the shot just keeps on going and going.
Yeah! That’s a lot of showing of. In previous lesson I was telling you not to show of. But that’s a lot of showing of right there. J
Well this shot is quite Robert Altman. He would made that kind of a shot if he would have a steady cam. J This shot it’s a quite a melancholy mess. Nothing important happens in this shot but everything happens. Everything is there! It’s Magnolia!
Yeah you know I think maybe something like that in that movie gets an audiences pulse going. It’s always great when a movie kicks in to a gear you know maybe this is about 20 minutes or 25 minutes into the movie where normally a plot really kicks in. In Magnolia there wasn’t really a plot to kick in at 25 or 30 minutes, because there really wasn’t a plot but you’ve got to kind of put something there anyway I think because audiences expect that at 20 minutes in something will happen. Or let’s say like they expect that something will happen in last 16 minutes…First act, second act, third act. So you have to fill those gaps even if you want to break the rules and say: “I don’t want to do first, second & third act!”. Yet you have to do something because an audience just expects something…when you go to cinema to see movies your stomach always tells you that something is going to happen. My butt…You know my butt in the seat of the movie theater knows that something will happen. So that’s just kind of an excuse in a movie with no plot to make it feel like something is going on.
Yes, because I have never seen something happening in such a dynamic way!
And of course in your movies you also have the other side of your story telling. Especially Magnolia where at the end the movie is getting slower and slower. And you have this situation with Tom Cruise coming at the door while his long lost, long forgotten father is dying, the “son of a bitch father” is dying the next door. And then you have the 2 and a half minutes long dialog but the camera doesn’t move at all and it’s not even in the room. And you have the door half opened. And you have Tom Cruise but you don’t see him…
Yeah….Well he didn’t get his usually salary. (Laughing) For 29 millions you can put him in front of the camera all you want, but we only gave him a few bucks. (Laughing) But maybe I think that this is the case that I said before when there is a lot going on in the scene I feel like maybe the less you should do as a director. And maybe that was the case of realizing that in that one long shot scene there wasn’t a lot going on, there are just people moving around, but in the other scene with Tom Cruise that you refer to, there was a lot going on. There was a lot being said between the actors and it is important and it was made in just one shot. And like I said before it’s a great opportunity and you can say to your actors: “We are just going to do it in this one shot. Camera is not going to move.” There is no time for the dolly grip to screw anything up or the focus to be off. It’s just sitting there and watching the actors, which is, if there is a lot going on, a lot of times the best way to go out and shot a scene like that. Just out of the way for the most important thing. The only thing anybody cares about when they’re seeing a movie: What are the actors doing? It’s really the most important thing when you go and see a movie. So that’s kind of a theory that I have.
I have two theories about this shot. One is very philosophical: He is hiding behind the door, because you wanted to hid something from us, or let’s say Tom Cruise had to hide something from us and so on and on. In the second one I was just imagining your personal joy of having Tom Cruise out of the take. (Laughing)
(Laughing) There is something nice, like in movies when there is just a nice sense of mystery when you hear what somebody is saying but you don’t see them. You know that’s always an interesting thing, maybe you can cut in the scene or something like that and ask your self, what makes people listen. If the camera is on you but I am talking, it might make an audience listen a little bit more but if the camera is on me and I am talking and people can see my mouth and body and arms moving. They will not be so concentrated on me talking because they can see me doing that. So you have that aid where it’s always interesting how to make decisions for the audience…Like how can I make them listen. And I think when Tom Cruise isn’t on camera you might be listening closely: “What the fuck is he doing…you know…He’s behind the fucking door?” And I think that kind of hooks draw you in to the movie a little bit more. It’s an interesting thing in movies how they work and how they can make you listen to certain things. It’s always fascinating.
Did you know that you are going to film like that before you went on the set, before you have seen the location or…?
No, no, not really. Maybe when I saw the location. You know? When you go out and scout the location and what happens is that thing that I was talking about before, getting out of your head and getting out of the way you wrote the movie. The reason also why he doesn’t open the doors is because of all those dogs, all those crazy dogs. And the second he opens up the doors these dogs all go running out. So when you get there and there is really, like five crazy fucking dogs often the actors have to deal with these dogs! Because you can’t really imagine what five dogs barking and going ape shit will do until you are there. Fuck it. You should just stand back and you don’t attempt to calm the dogs down or anything else and you just let it happened as it was. That’s kind of the case.
What’s your experience in directing the dogs? Did you have experiences before or after that?
No it was just these once time and I always leave it to experts.
What’s your experience with Movie Superstars? Stephen Daldry explained before he had some problems. What was your experience with Tom Cruise? How did he do?
Great! Tom Cruise is…
Terrific there! Before that film I really didn’t know he was such a good actor.
Well……Stanley Kubrick thought he was a good actor. That’s pretty good sign (thing) on your résumé.
Oh yeah you are right.
But my experience with movie stars has always been the best. The reason why they are movie stars…
…because they are good?
Yes, but they also work really hard and they show up on time… They have to keep being movie stars so they have to keep being good, you know. The only trouble I’ve ever had was with my day player actors coming to you…like the bar maid: “Would you like more coffee?” and asking all this questions: “Do you like me to say it like that or how would you like me to smile, act, or whatever?”. And you go: “Just fucking say more coffee! It’s not that big of a deal?!”
You started with a very big thing, very complex movie; very complex directing and then you get to Magnolia which is a big, complicated and ambitious movie with a very, very strong message. And then you get to the very simple one – The forth film! Did you just like felt doing something more easygoing, more simple, with just two persons, love…
Yeah, well it’s really a very interesting story in the way that I thought after making Magnolia, you know which is a very big story and a lot of characters, I had an instinct, just that natural instinct when as soon as you are done with it you want to do something completely different. And I thought it would be something just kind of easier to make, like make a sweet comedy, but it actually turned out to be much more difficult to make than Magnolia. Just so hard to actually concentrate on one story which is really ironically a great lesson that I learned that they are all difficult, there is just no such thing as taking a break or making it simple. They all acquire the same amount of attention. And if anything it requires more attention if you can’t cut from one story to the next. You really have to be on top of your game because you can’t cut anywhere, you know, you are just sticking, like in Punch Drunk Love, with Adam Sandler the whole time. It kind of forces you to make very strong decisions. And it’s funny how hard it is, to be simple, how hard it is to get out of the way. It’s kind of easy as director I think sometimes to maybe, when you are not sure about a certain scene, to make a big fuss and do a lot of work and do a lot of stuff. That’s kind of your natural instinct, you are just like: “Errrr, I don’t know what to do! Oh yeah! Let’s do a bunch of shit!” You know? In suppose to really stopping and wondering what’s the simplest way that I can approach this, what’s the simplest way to communicate to an audience what the scene is about or what is happening. That’s so hard but when you feel like you can do it, when you carve away and just get through all the crap that your head might dream of that you should do. There is nothing better then that feeling of being really successful in being just direct, simple and clear. I would just love to try and do that more and more and more!
There are two in a way very similar films. You, Adam Sandler and Punch Drunk Love and Jim Carrey and Man on the Moon. Those two films surprised people in a way. Especially the choice of actors…
Is Punch Drunk Love being distributed in Cinemas here in Croatia and Slovenia? Did it do very well?
Yeah I think it’s coming.
Aha OK. It’s coming. Well I think they are both terrific actors. I think all comedic actors are really, really talented and all generally very troubled.
It reminds me of Peter Sellers…
Yeah, me too, me too!
Okay of course you didn’t have another story to inter cut here in Punch Drunk Love, but you had those color shapes. What was that all about?
Well they were done by an artist and they were painted digitally. He is a painter and he did them in Photoshop. We had all those individual paintings and then we would animate them. His name is Jeremy Blake and I am not sure what they mean, the pictures that is, or why they are in the movie except that they look cool and they feel right. You know? A lot of times I think that’s okay. A lot of times it’s really okay to put something in the movie with no reason for justifying it and if it just looks cool or if it feels good, it’s okay. You know, you know when it’s cheating and when it’s bad but otherwise it just got to be something like that in a movie…It’s a movie after all!
Did you go to film school?
Well I read on the internet that you were in the film school for 2 days. Then you rather turned on your own. Have you been watching a lot of films?
Do you recognize your parents as the one who also helped you a lot on your career path?
32. Well if Robert Altman and Martin Scorcese would be man and wife you would be an ideal son of them. (Laughing)
(Laughing) Wow! I would like to see them doing you know…
………hmmmmm …yes… Now I can’t get that out of my fucking head!
(Laughing) Maybe this could be a good scene for your next movie. A love story! (Laughing)
Yeah. You know I think when I started I think I got lucky because when I was a kid it was really the beginning of home video cameras. And my dad bought a home video camera when I was like eleven or twelve. And I think everybody that is making movies nowadays played with camera when they were kids but having video made it so much easier, made it so much more immediate so in a lot of ways I kind of felt like an old man or an old pro or something by the time I really got to make movies because I have always been filming with a video camera which was sort of a new thing in the 70’ or early 80’ when I was growing up. And I think in a lot of ways maybe there is a generation of film makers that had to go to film school to get access to that equipment and I always felt, when I was growing up, that I did have to go to film school because that is how people before me have done. So you feel like. “Well the only way I am going to be able to get to do this is to go to film school!”. But when I graduated at High School my grades weren’t good enough to get in to college. So I screwed around for a couple of years and I didn’t have anything going on! And I was so desperate. And the other thing, especially in Hollywood, was that like: “The younger you are you should be making a movie. You know by 23 or 24 you should already be making movies. You know Orson Welles was 24 when he made Citizen Kane. I am a fucking failure, you know!!”. I worked really hard to get in to NYU and I finally did but by the time I got there I just…I think it was a combination of really feeling arrogant…Arrogant in good ways. I just couldn’t be there and I took the money that my father gave me for my college tuition and I decided to put it all in the short film. And what I knew was that this was a desperate move. It was sort of like: “This will make or break me and I really have to put it all into this!”. And I think there is something kind of exciting about that and at the times I was saying to myself: “If this doesn’t go well I will be a fucking failure the rest of my life!” Which really wouldn’t be true but I had to do it for myself. And I did and it worked out really well for me and I am glad that I made that decision. But in a lot of ways I do regret that I didn’t go to film school sometimes because I missed out on some things. I know kids that went to college and really had fantastic time on university and made a lot of great friends. I do regret it a bit that I missed out on that time. But I know my life wouldn’t be any different I think I would just probably have a little more friends.
(Laughing) But you do have a lot of friends. I have a feeling that you are making your films with your friends. You know I mean the crew is the same, the producer and actors. Same faces!
Yeah, well you know that’s that thing with making movies that it is…I am sure that anybody here on this festival knows that if you love movies or if you want to make movies you are going to find other people like you. It’s just like being in a circus or just like being a gypsy. You will gravitate towards the people that are as fucking insane as you are and want to like stay up all night and make movies. You find each other and that thing just happens. It’s kind of like the river starts flowing you know and all the small rivers come together in this one big river and people that love movies and love doing them find each other and that happened to me. We all found each other!
…but your family is also involved in the film business. You are an insider in a way.
Well sort of…My father worked on television in the states. He did the voiceovers for television commercials. So he was saying things like: “Go to the supermarket and buy stuff for 99 cents.” or whatever. That was his job and in many ways he wasn’t a film industry insider but he knew a lot of the technical people behind the scenes. So I got to grow up with a lot of technicians that recorded his work and stuff like that so I was able to be around that growing up which I think was incredibly helpful. It probably helped me realize who my real friends were: The people that made the movies as supposed to people who paid for them.
Yeah because your first big movie…second movie Boogie Nights is actually about a bunch of people that are making movies. They are making odd kind of movies. They are making porn. And you get in to the kind of an atmosphere. And I admire the fact that you were kind of a first time director and you were already making movies about filmmaking.
I liked it better when I was growing up. The old days it was better than it is now. When I grew up in the suburb of Los Angeles in San Fernando Valley I don’ remember anything else except that this part of Los Angeles is the capital of porn production. You know in Hollywood, that’s where they make regular movies but everybody goes over to the Valley and they make their porn movies and they pretend like that they are Hollywood and they pretend that they are like big stars and everything else. And that’s where I grew up so I kind of new that that was going on as a kid. So I guess I just wrote about what I knew. I just served the job. I think that’s what you are suppose to do. Just write about what you know.
I guess there is one of the terms in school of film making when all professors are teaching you that you should do something of what you know, write and make a movie about things you know. And you really did it. Your first couple of movies are really taking place in San Fernando Valley so they are kind of your home movies…
I think that’s the way that you are suppose to do it. And I don’t think it necessarily means that it has to take place where you are from you know, just as long it is personal and it can still be science fiction film. If you can find a way to highlight your personal experiences and what you think and what you know or what you believe you can set it on Mars or you can set it where you are from. You can set it in San Fernando Valley, Croatia or Slovenia. Just as long as it is coming from what you know. I think that’s the best way to do it! Those are the movies that I like the best when you really feel that they are personal!
Just relieve us…how come you really succeeded, how come they recognized you so quickly coming from San Fernando Valley with original ideas and a passion for making bizarre movies. How come you appeared and they gave you the money for your movies. How did you even appear from the fact that you were nobody?
I have no fucking idea!………
I don’t know. You know I think that I realized just from the things that I have read or people that I knew that were trying to get movies made. That the best thing that I could possibly do was to write the script really well. Because when you are going to get financing for your movie you are going to beg people to be involved with it and the only thing you got are this hundred or so many pages and you just got to be able to say: “This is it! And if this makes sense to you, you know, if you like this you will love the movie. But if you don’t like it you’ll never like the movie.” So that is just the thing that I learned early on that I try to be as clear as I possible could be in the script because than everything else falls into place. I also learned early on if you get into the situation when the script isn’t right and you are going in to shoot it, it will never get right. You will be tossing and chasing your tail. It just became something that I learned in an attempt to convince people to get me money or to convince actors to be in it. It all kept going back to the screenplay. Which is just the Bible! It is really the bible to which you can always point to!
Do you ever change your screenplays?
No, no. Absolutely I will change it…yeah, yeah…I mean within reasons but it’s not suddenly going to turn into something completely different. But there will be small changes.
Confident to your self and confident to your scripts.
Yeah. Confident! A little arrogant and stupid…
…did Burt Reynolds love the script at first glance?
Burt Reynolds? Oh Burt Reynolds was just looking for a job (Laughing)
It wasn’t like Burt Reynolds had a long line of work lined up (Laughing)
(Laughing) So it looks like Burt Reynolds revival.
Yeah! A brief revival! (Laughing) Burt Reynolds needed a job and so did Mark Wahlberg…you know what! They got Julianne Moore to be in a movie and that was a big deal because everybody, especially actors really loved Julianne Moore. So everybody could kind of breathe easily. It’s a movie that sticks out pornography and stuff like that but if an actress like Julianne Moore says “I want to be in this!” everybody else just goes “Maybe there is something too smart about this!”. Because they really didn’t know who I was and they didn’t have the ability to trust me but they had the ability to know that Julianne had a really good taste. So that’s something that I think it’s really important that I was surrounded by people that had good taste. While I didn’t have any kind of track record I was working with a producer and a casting director for a little while who knew a lot of people and that was very helpful. They could kind of trust his instincts to while I might have been a little bit of a wild card at the time. To help me around people and that was a good buffer.
And of course I would also like to know what you are going to do next and what your future of film making is. What’s your next project and where do you find inspiration?
I am looking for it right now (Laughing). You know, I don’t have any plans to make a movie right now. I am reading and I am writing and I am trying to travel as much as I can. I will probably try to take maybe a year or so or two off because I think four movies in whatever, like six or seven years and I did feel a little bit like a little bit of my life just passing by. So now I try to focus a little bit more on my family, you know on something other than movies for a little bit. It’s funny! I was so desperate to make movies and then I got the ability to make movies and I made four of them now. And now I should stand back because there are things that are a bit more important to me now than making movies. It’s kind of an interesting thing. So I don’t have a next project and I am taking my time try to read all those books that I wanted to read, clean my house (laughing), sleep up a little bit,…
Tell us something about your first movie Hard Eight.
Well it was the first movie that I made. (Laughing) I made it very quickly and for a very small company. Was it distributed here?
I think just on video not in Cinemas.
It’s good. If you can find it it’s a very good movie!
(Laughing) You said that you started with a short movie. What is your relationship to shorts? Will you still make a short movie someday?
You know it’s a great question because I have written a couple of little shorts that I want to make. I said that I really didn’t have any projects, big projects planned but I would love just for practice or just for fun to make something that I can get together with a few friends and do it in one weekend. To do short films. I got a few of them actually just for myself, not to come out or anything like that or on video. Just to be alive a little bit. Because I know that I couldn’t go for a couple of years without shooting something. Short films are almost like something for just keep exercising or something like that so you don’t get stiff. Also you know it’s nice because you can make a short film for 50 or 100 dollars. Video Cameras and material is getting cheaper and cheaper so if you got a video camera you can do anything if the story is simple enough. That’s a really nice feeling.
How long did it take you to write Boogie Nights and place it for somebody to pick it up and of course make it into a movie?
Well, I made a short film when I was 17. It was a half our short film on video and it was called “The Dirk Diggler story” and it was like…You know I have seen Spinal Tap and I just wanted to make a movie like that. So I made this fake documentary about this porn star Dirk Diggler…
…did he really exist?
No he didn’t exist.
But there was one real actor who also played in porno movies at that time and who got murdered…
John Holmes, but Dirk Diggler was made up. Similar dick size but different person and he didn’t die. John Holmes did die. So anyway! I did that 30 minutes thing and then 2 or 3 years later, maybe when I was 19 or 20 I decided that I would write it as a fully fictional documentary. And I did that and it was funny because it was a great exercise because really I was just ripping off Spinal Tap. And this was great for me to do because then a few years passed and I realized, you know that’s kind of an old format by now. While it was original within the format but the format wasn’t very original and I was just trying to emulate what I liked. So many years passed and then when I went to go not making fictional documentary but write it as just a straight fictional film it was great. It was almost like I was operating with a documentary in my hands. It was almost like I was telling a true story of Dirk Diggler. And I was able to write it very quickly in maybe 3 or 4 months. But that’s 9 years that it took me to make that movie all together. But valuable nine years. I learned a lot and I was getting more and more ideas. And I am writing all my ideas in my notebook and I keep that notebook with my ideas around me all the time. It’s cool that I keep having around something that I wrote let’s say 2 years ago which usually comes in valuable just many years later. I just can’t stress enough the importance of notebooks and writing things down and constantly writing which will always serve you well.
So if it took you nine years, don’t you ever lose your enthusiasm?
Well because I think I have gone away from it for so long, you know? I wrote other things in the meantime. It was just a little bit gone but always in the back of my mind. It was death to me in one way but then when I had another way of doing it, it came alive again. As a documentary it was death and boring and also kind of lame but to do it as a regular straight movie suddenly the ideas become fresh again.
So do you still find old stories in your notebooks?
So old stories get better with time sometimes. They improve by being older.
Another question about Magnolia which is quite a complex movie. Unlike other films which have stories, have characters and something happens, bla, bla…But Magnolia has something that it’s hard to notice when you first see the movie. And that is play with numbers (8:2) and its connection with biblical rain of frogs which is actually quite a phenomenon. How long did it take you to write the script and how many times did you rewrite it?
I wrote Magnolia in maybe little over 9 months but I remember feeling like I was writing for 9 months but I didn’t really know what I was writing but then suddenly in the last 2 months I really wrote the movie. It was almost like just a bunch of stuff and a bunch of stuff and bunch of ideas and you sort of think you are writing but you are not sure what happens but then suddenly something happens and in 2 months I really fell like I wrote it. I went to a cabin in Vermont and that really helped a lot too. Just away from the distractions and my everyday life. Running away from distractions and stuff like that became a good lesson in learning how to write. Just go on to a cabin in the woods and it will get done because probably you just want to go home. You are lonely and you just say to yourself: “I have to get this script done and then I can go home!” (Laughing)
(Laughing) 9 months is a very appropriate, you know, biological time. (Laughing)
Yeah things like that and Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese fucking. (Laughing)
It is obvious that music is very important for you in movies. I read somewhere that music of Amie Mann was actually a part of inspiration for Magnolia. So what’s your recipe for connecting music with movies?
It is true that Amie Mann’s music was a really big inspiration for writing Magnolia. You know it’s funny that everybody wants to be somebody else. Like every actor I know really wants to be a rock star and every rock star really wants to be an actor. And I think I secretly want to be a musician. But I am really just a writer. I can’t play any music so I think there is that thing where I will be writing and writing and writing and I can’t really know if it is any fucking good or not or maybe really not know what the hell I’m doing but sometimes maybe you like hear a piece of music or a song that just really helps make it make sense to you what that’s you are writing. And when I was writing Magnolia I was writing it for a little while but then hearing Amie’s songs really start to make it help me make sense of what I was writing. Because she makes sense of a lot of stuff as songs. So I just tend to use songs that are kind of like a little ID that is dripping on your arm as you are writing. It just helps you! Either or not the songs have anything to do with the movie or maybe they will never end up in the movie, you know! Just stealing something from it. Like I don’t really like to watch movies when I am writing but you need to be fueled by something. I love to read and I just love to listen to music when I am writing.
One silly question. Maybe for us that are not connected to your world Magnolia seemed something very new. Is there is a theory about post modernism in America and are you maybe a part of it? Because Magnolia was really refreshing for me to see. So I am just interested in what are your influences in terms of books. Philosophy if any or any other sources of art or is this just the thing when you sit down and it comes out or do you have some sort of personal agenda? I don’t know. I was really striked by the role of contingency in Magnolia in every day life. It’s a particular vision…
Well some days I fell really “arty” and very theoretical and some days I just can’t find my fucking keys you know. With Magnolia I can remember a few things. I had really gone true a weird time of my life: My father had died and I was between 2 relationships and I remember reading about the rain of frogs and I really wanted to make a movie with a lot of actors. I wanted to make a movie that was epic and I was reading a lot about odd phenomenon and just really bizarre, bizarre shit. And somewhere in the scoop of all that I was just writing. I think it was just one of those times when your hand just kinds of starts leading you and maybe you have your things you think you want to say. And I think I also had this kind of jolt of confidence and enthusiasm because Boogie Nights had come out and it was successful and it was nothing better then that rush of somebody actually validating your work. It really is great! You know people might pretend like it doesn’t matter what people think but it’s kind of fucking really nice when you work so hard and people say: “That was job well done and that was really good!”. And if you are a writer and you are alone in your room which you spend a lot of times doing it’s like a good glass of water when somebody says good job, really good job. And out of that confidence I think I just wrote that movie and that’s sort of the best way I can describe what I was thinking at the time. A little bit of just sort of being blind and writing it’s just the best way to go.
Before you made Hard Eight I presume that this wasn’t the first script you wrote. How come you chose it to be your first one?
Yes I have only written maybe one or two other scripts that I didn’t really like that much and I liked this one and it seemed that I could do it. It seemed that I could make a movie which was small with only four characters in Reno, Nevada and that I could raise money for it. It was really all I had.
You had no choice!
Yeah but I really didn’t need any other choice. It was that movie that I wanted to make. I got very lucky on that movie just to start making it but I got in a lot of trouble when I made the movie. There were some producers that fired me actually after I… It was my movie. I mean I wrote it and directed it and then I found these guys to finance it and they were real criminals.
I put the movie together. And they had all these ideas for cuts that I wouldn’t make. Some of them were actually good ideas but I was too arrogant to like see that they were good ideas and they were kind of dicks too. But they ended up taking movie away from me. It was like this amazing lesson very early on where I was hit fucking repeatedly over and over again and I fought and I desperately tried to get the movie back and it was just a long, long battle. And eventually I got the movie back but there was a period where I did get beat up enough and where I was swimming in the darkest depression and I thought my career is over and I will never get another chance. But I pulled my self out of it somehow and the only way that I could get things going again is if I go to work again. So I went and get Boogie Nights made and the amazing thing in doing that was I went to get Boogie Nights made and that became kind of easy, getting money for it and at the same time I reinvestigated the fight to get my first movie back. And I got that movie back so I was in pre-production of Boogie Night while I was re-cutting and finishing off my first movie. And it was kind of a this great lesson that I learned just having gone in this really deep and dark depression where I couldn’t get out of my fucking bed and the only thing that I could do is just get up and attack, attack and attack. And I am happy that that happened. So it was kind of a great first lesson on my first movie. And I was able to learn right then and there all kinds of mistakes that I have made. All that arrogance where I wasn’t seeing anything and where they were right and I was just to blind to notice it. But I also learned that I was right on a lot of stuff and I should have fought for what I believed. So it’s just kind of a great lesson on my first movie.
This is a second great tip of the season. Beat depression by breaking it!
What do you think about Cameron Crowe and his film making?
Yeah I like him.
Do you see any similarities between your work and his? Okay perhaps except Vanilla Sky which is a bit of a mess. Because it seems to me that you are in the way both passionate to make bizarre and kind of personal movies. And the two of you both made Tom Cruise act which is quite hard to do…
…Tom Cruise got a bad wrap around here. (Laughing)
(Laughing) Well for me this personal or emotional dimension connects the two of you.
Yeah, I know Cameron Crowe makes personal movies and I think that I do too and we both like music and we both like Tom Cruise (Laughing). And that’s about it.
(Laughing) Could you tell us which other films from other film makers do you like.
There is a movie tonight called “Noi Albinoi” that’s fucking amazing and that movie that I saw last night “In This World” by Michael Winterbottom is fucking incredible and I can’t wait to see “Dogville”. I just love everything that crazy fucking Danish fuck does. He’s pretty god damn good. I start swearing when I like things (Laughing). But I love Lars von Trier and those are the people that I like right now. Did that answer your question?
Yep. I think you are very popular generally in the world and your movies are very popular amongst public but you are more appreciated by juries on festivals in Europe than in America if I remember well.
Thank God! (Laughing)
(Laughing) Maybe when you will imagine let’s say your next project maybe you could transfer this project to Europe because maybe public here likes you more than Hollywood “big guys”. (Laughing).
You know what. I will stick around Hollywood for a little while longer and then when they get fucking seek of me and they kick me out I know I can always come here and start making movies here. But I actually do have a movie that I want to make and will take place in parts of Europe. But I don’t know…I think as a kid secretly deep down inside, if you are growing up in America, you know that the place that they really love movies is Europe and that they have a different appreciation for them. And European movies are sort of big influence…Well they were on me. So in a way we always secretly think: “My god I hope they like my movies in Europe.” So…someday, someday!
You have to drag Tom Cruise with you as well. (Laughing)
When I think about all this and people watching you and your movies and on the other side people that are watching films that are nothing new, nothing revolutionary, everything that we have already seen before. It’s nothing like Lars Von Trier who is always making something up. He does things that nobody would expect to see in a feature film. And we also have all these guys inventing new things – a lot of steady cam and jerky camera. And we know somehow and everybody feels that this is really something new, something unique maybe because of this sense of sincerity. And I don’t know a proper answer to this and I don’t think you might have one but I think a new cinema is emerging with a lot of these young directors. Is it possible that this grows into really something big which will influence this mainstream…
…making? (Laughing) And generally maybe America coming to Europe.
Yeah! No! It’s not. It’s way too fucking big. It’s not going to change! It has really made up his mind I think about how it wants to be and all that will happen it’s sort of the same as it ever was, you know. There’s going to be good stuff and there is going to be bad stuff. And you find the good stuff and you hold on to it and pray that everything will be good. And then nothing happens but then you should get another good thing. I’ve kind of given up thinking that the entire landscapes of movies will change and everything would be good. I mean you just look for the good things and don’t pay for the bad things and just keep going to film festivals where you can see the movies that you like. We are never going to be really that happy with Hollywood, you are never going to be so just find the things you like. It’s kind of like; you take what you can get.
But maybe there is a tribe of good people that think like that but it’s just hard to find them.
Really? (Laughing) I don’t know. I find when, I come to a festival or when I am making movies or when I am with people that I know, I fell pretty comfortable. You know, that I have found people that like good things and I stay away from the bad people who want to suck your blood.
(Laughing) Okay! Last question! Finally! J I have read that you have been doing some music videos. Do you like making them and are you going to make some more?
I like to make music videos. Sure. I like them. They are nice and they are fun and it’s kind of like making short films but I don’t have any plans to make some more. I really don’t have any time for it but maybe someday.
Okay I would just like to really thank you for this…not interview but a really long and cool conversation.
Yeah. No problem. Thank you and I will be back because Motovun Film Festival is one of the best festivals I have ever visited.